Google Africa has approached volunteers to request that they judge the quality of beta translations in African languages including Zulu, Igbo, Somali and Yoruba. A Google+ post advertised the initiative to users who speak one of the languages. They were then asked to rate the translation of passages to and from English as ‘poor’, ‘fair’, ‘good’ or ‘excellent.’ By using native translators to identify good and bad translations, Google hopes to improve the system as it prepares to add these new languages to Google Translate – the tech giant’s popular machine translation service.
While these languages may not have the number of native speakers as English or Spanish, for example, the number of native speakers of these languages is not insignificant. Zulu had an estimated 10.4 million native speakers and 16 million second-language speakers in 2007. Igbo speakers were estimated to be around 25 million in 2007. There are 17 million native Somali speakers and 28 million speakers of Yoruba, according to 2007 estimates. High population growth in Africa is likely to have increased these figures in recent years.
So in total, the new languages will allow Google to potentially help over 68 million people translate their own language into over 70 other languages. This is a huge number. For instance the number of native speakers of French is estimated to be just over 70 million.
This move seems to confirm the belief that Google may be targeting niche linguistic markets in an attempt to increase future prosperity as more native speakers of those languages around the world gain access to the internet and go on to use these services. However, Africa has the lowest level of internet penetration of any continent – at just over 15% compared with 27% for Asia and 40% for the Middle East. Perhaps Google’s Loon project, which aims to provide cheap WiFi access for remove areas of the world where fixed internet access is limited, can help to increase internet penetration in Africa.